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Barclay James  Harvest - Ring Of Changes CD (album) cover

RING OF CHANGES

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

2.66 | 63 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars 'Ring of Changes' was certainly an appropriate title for Barclay James Harvest's twelfth studio album. The band ventured outside England for the first time since their trek to San Francisco to record 1975's 'Time Honoured Ghosts', recording and living in Germany in what was undoubtedly a tax-dodging scheme. A new producer too, eschewing Martin Lawrence in that role after more than half a decade in favor of Pip Williams who had kick- started the Moody Blues' career with their 1981 release 'Long Distance Voyager'. Williams made that album work by leveraging what the Moodys did best (orchestral trappings and flowing vocal harmonies) while layering both with the sort of overly-polished eighties sheen needed to get airplay in that decade.

And he would do the same for BJH, bringing in the New World Philharmonic Orchestra for several numbers and carefully weaving in the new-wavy pop numbers in a way that minimized the bitter aftertaste while ensuring the band would have something associated with the record that was still suitable for mainstream FM radio. "High Wire" and "Just a Day Away (Forever Tomorrow)" in particular are in the same commercial vein as their last two albums, and the latter was released as a minor single.

"Waiting for the Right Time" was also released as a single but manages to reflect well on the band with its slow tempo, ballad-like simple rhythm as well as velvet-smooth orchestral and synthesizer stylings. I don't personally recall hearing this one on the radio back in the mid-eighties, but it certainly would have held its own along with tracks like "The Voice" from the Moodys, "Eye in the Sky" from Alan Parsons, or Yes's "Hold On".

The horns are back again as well, primarily on "Just a Day Away" and as with the prior two albums are a bit of a surprise for this band but are tasteful enough to not be a distraction.

I guess my biggest disappointment with this album is that the opening "Fifties Child" is a bit misleading. The orchestral intro and majestic arrangement gives the impression the band has finally recognized their strengths and isn't trying to compete with artists half their age as they seem to have been since 1979's "XII". True, the bland rhythm section on this song would have been left on the cutting room floor of any of their pre-1980 studio sessions, but overall the sound is welcoming and creative without sounding dated. A great aural compromise.

But these tracks are too few and far between. "Waiting for the Right Time" comes close but uses the orchestra as window dressing rather than an integral part of the composition. The title track is similar and the choral-like vocals fit the swelling arrangements well, but for the most part the non-rock portions of this song are synthesized so the band missed a great opportunity to fully flesh out the composition with a heavy dose of strings and possibly a woodwind or two. Too bad.

Most of the rest of the songs here are firmly rooted in the eighties. "Midnight Drug" in particular could have been included on a Vapors or an Echo & the Bunnymen album, while "Teenage Heart" sounds like fails to take off at all. "Paraiso Dos Cavalos" with its tight string arrangement and (could it be?!) augment the verbal Portuguese soundscape quite well; in fact, given the de-emphasis on the rhythm section here this one just might top "Fifties Child" as the best almost-made-it-back track on this album.

Two and a half songs aren't enough to justify the entire album, but the noticeable improvement in both effort and sound deserve recognition. I've rated the band's three prior albums as two-star efforts because they never made it out of the eighties and are more forgettable today than they were when they released. That's not quite true of 'Ring of Changes', which manages at least to show the band capable of trying something new even if it was clearly done for commercial reasons. So three stars it is and a mild recommendation. If you are a Barclay James Harvest fan or are just interested in discovering them, start at the beginning but when you get to the eighties you can pretty much skip right to this album and get a comprehensive sense of where the band was musically during that decade. None of the other eighties albums are necessary (or recommended).

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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